With “Gotham” returning for its final season this month, I’m looking back at past “Batman” projects from the perspective of someone who enjoyed “The Animated Series” as a kid and now enjoys “Gotham.” Next up is “Batman Forever” (1995).
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT
The Bruce Wayne scenes feel like they’re in a different (better) movie, like when he daydreams about falling into a cave, seeing a bat and resolving to become Batman. And the soundtrack is the best of the series so far, featuring U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” and Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose,” both of which got a lot of spins from me in 1995.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD ABOUT IT
It’s remarkable to watch the bonus features for 1989’s “Batman” where everyone talks about how important it is to bring a serious version of the character to the big screen, and then to see that six years later, the campy style returned. (Robin says “Holy rusted metal!” at one point. Granted, it’s a jokey homage, but still.) Were “Batman” fans asking for it? I don’t think so. People did go to “Batman Forever” in droves, but I think that says more about how going to blockbuster movies was the thing to do in the 1990s.
As noted, Val Kilmer’s Bruce is in a serious movie, continuing nicely from Michael Keaton’s performance. His arc is shallowly written, as he deals with being two prongs of a love triangle with Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) and also has to decide if he’ll let Robin (Chris O’Donnell) into his circle or not. But Kilmer is solid; it’s nice to see that at least one actor wants to make a respectable film.
Dick Grayson/Robin is miscast, as O’Donnell is 10 years too old for the role, making the teenage-style antics less forgivable. It also messes up the traditional Batman-Robin dichotomy since the two are almost contemporaries. Granted, “Batman Forever” does play up the “partners” idea rather than the mentor-student relationship, but it gains nothing by messing with the formula.
Dr. Chase Meridian is hard to take seriously since she specializes in analyzing human behavior yet is unable to tell – throughout the entire film — that Batman and Bruce are the same person.
Harvey Dent/Two-Face is misconceived in every way. He’s miscast, as Dent is supposed to be suave and handsome; Tommy Lee Jones isn’t ugly, but he doesn’t fit that bill. Billy Dee Williams (Dent in 1989’s “Batman”) does, and he shouldn’t have been booted from the role, although I don’t wish this script upon him. As performed by Jones, Two-Face is incredibly annoying from start to finish, easily displacing the Penguin as the saga’s most irksome villain. And the writers (yes, this film has them: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman) often forget that Two-Face has a split personality. At different times, the Riddler and Batman remind him that he should flip his coin rather than going straight to evil mode, which feels like the writers saying “Oh yeah, he’s supposed to do that coin-flip thing.”
Edward Nygma/The Riddler is vintage 1990s Jim Carrey, who can – as Lisa Simpson puts it — make us laugh with no more than a frantic flailing of his limbs. This performance is a nostalgic time capsule of how much the masses liked Carrey in 1995, but “Dumb and Dumber,” from the same year, features a Carrey performance that has aged better.
- Just as 1989’s “Batman” tightens up the lore by having the Joker be the killer of Bruce’s parents, this film has Two-Face be the killer of Dick’s parents and brother. In both cases, it shrinks the mythology into something less interesting.
- The Riddler’s brain-drain device recalls a lot of sci-fi movies; I’ll mention “Halloween III” here, simply because it’s on my mind from my recent rewatch of that saga.
- I was surprised that Two-Face is Two-Face from the opening scene. Later, in news footage, we see the villain’s origin story, which is faithful to the comics: Harvey is splashed with acid in a courtroom, which gives him slight brain damage and makes him hate Batman for not saving him.
- Drew Barrymore plays the villains’ arm candy, a minor role that could’ve been handled by any starlet. In my mind, Barrymore was a bigger star than she really was, perhaps. Or maybe being in blockbusters was such a crucial career move in the ’90s that actors would grab a bit part.
- The production design isn’t bad, although it weirdly does a time-jump from Tim Burton’s films so Gotham City now seems futuristic with all its neon, slightly reminiscent of “The Dark Knight Returns.” I wish director Joel Schumacher didn’t tilt the camera so much, as then I could’ve simply looked at the colorful design work and had something to appreciate.
- The TV commentators say “Harvey Two-Face” multiple times. Why would they not just say “Two-Face?” Or “Harvey Dent?”
As a kid, I got to pick a movie to see with my family for my birthday. In 1995, I selected “Batman Forever.” I owe an apology to my parents, as I now see what it’s like sitting through these two hours as an adult. This film is interesting as an artifact of the era where popular actors signed on to blockbusters as an advertisement for their own careers, and people went to blockbusters because it was the thing to do. As a “Batman” film, “Forever” makes me angry now; and it should’ve at the time, since I regularly watched “The Animated Series,” which respects the lore and tells good stories.